Expectations on Risk and Returns

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James Bowen takes a moment to muse on risk expectations and market values.

 

Today I read Christopher Schelling’s insightful article in Institutional Investor, “The Dust Bowl Ravaged 1930s America: Coronavirus is Today’s Equivalent.” It led me to thinking about risk, and in particular how a risk no one considered at all a little over a month ago has emerged to destroy trillions of dollars of value — perhaps not in percentage terms, but certainly in dollar terms the largest destruction of value in my lifetime. How can this be?

The market value of anything, whether a farm or a necklace or a share of stock, is what someone else is willing to pay for it. In financial markets, we should see a relationship between the market price of an asset and its future cash flows, discounted for the riskiness of the asset. The riskier the asset, the greater the rate of discount of the future cash flows. Of course, it’s all more complicated than that, but at its very core the foundational principle of modern finance is that return is commensurate with risk, and the sum of the expected future returns on an asset tells us what it is worth. When the riskiness of future returns increases, present value decreases, and vice versa. It’s that simple.

 

Read the full article, On Risk in the Coronavirus Era, on LinkedIn.